Grieving Mother Held Against Her Will in Psychiatric Ward

I read an article this morning about a judge who ordered release of a grieving mother, Christina Schumacher, who was held against her will for more than five weeks in a psychiatric ward. When she separated from her husband last year, Ms. Schumacher made a comment to her sister “that she would kill herself if anything happened to her two children.”* The day after her husband killed their son and then hanged himself, the grieving mother’s doctor decided that she “needed to admit herself or be taken into custody.”*

Other people, however, thought differently. Vermont Superior Court Judge Kevin Griffin ruled that, “The court did not find, by clear and convincing evidence, that Respondent was a person in need of treatment at the time of admission or application, nor a patient in need of further treatment at the time of the hearing.”* Ms. Schumacher, said, “I am not ill; I am simply a mother who is grieving the tragic loss of her young son…No mother should ever have to experience this loss.”*

Who has the right to decide whether grieving parents need psychiatric help and/or whether their grief needs medicalizing? When is it appropriate for someone else to decide when grief is too overwhelming or going on too long for a bereaved parent? What non-bereaved parent hasn’t thought, “I don’t know if I could go on living if something should happen to my children”? Should that person’s child die, are his or her previous statements enough to warrant involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward? If a bereaved parent mentions suicidal type of thoughts while deeply grieving the loss of a child, is that enough for such drastic action as involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward? What bereaved parent hasn’t struggled with trying to find a reason to go on living when a child has died? (By the way, having suicidal thoughts is not totally uncommon for bereaved parents. Not that those thoughts are necessary acted upon, but they are sometimes thought.) What are the warning flags that a bereaved parent needs help to deal with grief? When is appropriate to pathologize grief? What is “normal” grief? When should grief be considered “abnormal”?

I think these are questions that have been brought to the forefront in the discussion of the inclusion of complicated grief into the DSM-5. I also think that because these questions – and many more – are so difficult to definitively answer is why complicated grief was not included in the DSM-5, but rather indicated for further study and research.

I have no doubt that there are many researchers on the subject of grief and doctors who have the best intentions of helping those who grieve and those who struggle with prolonged or complicated grief. I applaud them for their research and for efforts to deal with this difficult subject. I also think the situation of Ms. Schumacher should also be a cautionary tale for misdirected and over-zealousness in pathologizing grief.

Lately, I have been doing some reading and research on the topic of complicated grief. My main concern with adding complicated grief to the DSM-5 and pathologizing grief is that for every doctor who uses due caution in determining whether or not grief intervention is necessary, there are those who may not. There are medical people who may think they know what they are talking about, but they don’t. They make decisions based on something they’ve read or heard without doing their own adequate research. For every doctor who graduated in the top half of his or her class, there are equal numbers who graduated in the bottom half.

I am very thankful that the discussion of complicated grief and its potential inclusion in the DSM-5 has brought the topic of grief and its many complications to the forefront of discussions. Grief and those who grieve deeply have been swept to the side for too long. We have much understanding to gain from the research, the foremost of which is caution in pathologizing grief.

Are there times when help is needed in processing grief? Without a doubt. But there are also other times when someone else (relative, concerned friend, acquaintance, doctor) determines that a bereaved person needs to be “helped,” instead of trying to understand that grief is not tidy nor simple and that compassion, understanding, a listening ear and adequate time to grieve is what’s needed. When that someone is a reactionary doctor with authority (perceived or otherwise) over the bereaved’s life, that’s when we can run into problems such as Ms. Schumacher encountered.

*Credit for article quotes: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/01/25/vermont-woman-held-against-will-in-psych-ward-ordered-released/?intcmp=trending

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Edit:

Here’s a link to testimony of Ms Schumacher:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/31/woman-held-in-psych-ward-testifies/5089405/

“You’ve Got the Most Unbelievable Blue Eyes I’ve Ever Seen”

Look at that bright smile

Look at that bright smile and beautiful blue eyes

One of the songs we played at Jason’s memorial service during the photo slide show was Donna Lewis’s “I Love You Always Forever.” It was a fun, upbeat song that was popular at the time and parts of it just seemed to represent who Jason was, especially the line “you’ve got the most unbelievable blue eyes I’ve ever seen.” Because, you see, Jason DID have the most unbelievably beautiful blue eyes. They were eyes that twinkled with joy. They were eyes that spoke of intelligence, love, compassion.

Music has a power to connect to our emotions like little else. It brings back memories so clearly, as if the event that triggers those memories just happened. It just touches our hearts so deeply in unexpected ways.

For some reason, that song, “I Love You Always Forever,” does that for me. It just zings me right in the heart every time I hear it, and it takes me right back to that time. It reminds me of how much I miss Jason. It came on the speakers as I was shopping today and just stopped me in my tracks. Tears filled my eyes and I was blindsided by the depth of emotions I felt.

Early on in this journey, I realized certain songs were going to do that for me; they were going to blindside me when I unexpectedly heard them. I realized that could be a problem, and so I purchased a CD with this particular song on it. I played it over and over in an effort to “desensitize” its impact for me. Obviously, that didn’t work very well for me. I still get blindsided by this song…and others. They remind me of times gone by that will never come again. They remind me how much I miss my boy and those beautiful blue eyes of his.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Remembering Alina

This morning I am remembering and honoring Jason’s best friend Alina on her 32nd birthday. She and Jason spent part of their last day together here on earth. He was taking her home after watching a movie at our house when they were broadsided by a drunk driver who was going more than twice the speed limit. They both died instantly.

Alina was a sweetheart. She always had a smile and a hug for everyone. She always made our house warmer and more fun just by being in it. I know that she felt right at home in our house and that she knew we loved her. I miss her and will never forget her. Happy birthday, Alina.

 

My Very Best Friend
For Alina

By Jason Carney

How to describe my very best friend?
She’s one of a kind
No other even comes close to her
A shining jewel in my otherwise blackened existence.
She cares greatly for others,
And puts their needs in front of her own.

No matter what I do
She still cares for me,
And never turns her back to me.

Through thick and thin
She’s always been a friend.
I could always count on her
She always instilled confidence in me.

Ever since the start of our friendship
She’s accepted me for who I am.
I don’t have to act a certain way for her,
She liked me just the way I was.

Around her I have a feeling of security,
That I have with no other.
I can really be myself with her,
And not worry about rejection.

How well she knows me
Is a scary yet comforting feeling.
She can tell when I’m down,
Or I need to laugh, or just need a hug.

She always has a hug to offer me
On these gloomy days,
And brings a smile to my face when I’m down.

She’s always willing to listen,
When I need to talk,
And gives me advice
When I need council.

I never had such a great friend
And I thank God for our friendship.
Ah, she is a great best friend,
My very best friend indeed.

(Written by Jason for Alina)

 

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

A Crisis of Faith

As most people know, it’s not uncommon for a parent to have a crisis of faith following the death of his or her child.

What is a crisis of faith? One definition is “periods of intense doubt and internal conflict about one’s preconceived beliefs*”. The key words here are “intense doubt” and “preconceived beliefs.” Basically, it’s when we thought we knew something for certain (or perhaps took something for granted) in the realm of our faith in God (what we “see” with our spiritual eyes or experience and understand in our spiritual lives or believe to be true in the spiritual realm); but when it differs so drastically from what is the reality of our lives (what we “see” with our physical eyes or experience in our physical world), we question everything we believed. Our preconceived beliefs don’t jive with what we’ve just experienced. Trying to reconcile the two opposing concepts when they are at extreme odds with each other can lead to a crisis of faith.

One of the things I miss most since Jason died (besides Jason and my life as I knew it before my world was shattered) is my unquestioning faith in God. I remember times when my heart was so full with love for God that I thought it would burst. I don’t feel that way any more, at least for now. I remember standing by the cassette player (yes, cassette player) with my eyes closed, singing my pledge of devotion to God along with Andrea Crouch or Clay Crosse. I remember being so moved by a song as I sang in the choir that I could hardly get the words out. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15) was my anthem. I would have died for my faith, for God.

But what happens when it’s not you who are “slayed” and it’s your child who dies? What happens when you have to face life without your child, when you have to figure out how to go on living without your child? Then it’s not quite so easy to say, is it? I doubt that there isn’t one parent whose child died that gladly wouldn’t have taken his or her child’s place. I would much rather take the brunt of something awful FOR my children than it happen TO any of them. I would gladly have died in Jason’s place.

There are parents who seem to find a “greater good” or a “higher purpose” or find solace that God is in control of their child’s death. I just haven’t been able to do that. I woke up nearly every night, went downstairs to kneel in front of the couch and pray for my family, for my kids and their friends. I prayed with all my heart and all my being for my kids’ lives and their protection. And still Jason died. And still our family has had to walk through so many hard things, just a fraction of which I would tell most people. How do I reconcile those two?

I have had a crisis of faith. Does that mean I don’t believe in God? No. It just means it seems that what I thought I knew about God wasn’t accurate. It means that what I thought God would “do” for me, He wouldn’t or didn’t do. I thought that if I prayed for my kids that they would be protected. I thought that if I served God with all my heart and tried to do the right things God would make things right for me. I believed that God heard my fervent prayers, that my prayers “availed much” (James 5:16) in the kingdom of heaven and on earth, and that God answered my prayers. I believed God protected my family. I guess I sort of saw God like my own personal genie who could grant me whatever wish I wished for if I wished hard enough for it. That’s not faith; that’s wishful thinking.

Right after Jason died, I remember praying and praying that God would make something good come out of Jason’s death. I didn’t want Jason’s life and death to be for nothing. Both my husband and I felt, from the moment Jason was born, that God had great plans for his life. We felt that he was to do something great for God. And then God didn’t protect Jason and he died. After he died, I prayed that Jason’s life would be like a pebble dropped in a pond, that the ripples of his precious life would be like concentric rings and reach far and wide. Surely, there had to be more to Jason’s life and his living than he would die at the age of 19 before he barely was into adulthood. Surely, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28),” don’t they? I guess I’m still looking for the “good” to come out of Jason’s death, as I can’t say that I’ve seen it yet.

I felt God’s presence incredibly close after Jason died. I felt the prayers of people who knew us, lifting us up before the Most High. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though God wasn’t paying attention any more, that He really didn’t care about the anguish we were going through. Somewhere along the line, I felt like God had abandoned us. I felt like the heavens were brass and my prayers weren’t even reaching the ceiling. I felt that people were no longer praying for us. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though God’s people didn’t care so much any more. God’s people abandoned us.

Honestly, I have to say that being left so alone by nearly everyone we knew added exponentially to my crisis of faith. Who were most of the people we knew? Christians. People in the church. People we had served and had served with in the church and homeschool community. Christian people I thought of as friends, as extended family since our own families were more than halfway across the country. I thought of Christian people as extensions as the hands and feet of God. I looked to them for support; I expected them to be there for us. Not only did God seem so very far away, out of reach and uncaring, so did nearly everyone else we knew. When you’re hurting so badly, it’s easy to confuse God, the church, and God’s people. It seemed that not only had God let us down and left us alone, so had His people.

I know I have beat this drum a lot in writing my blog – “we were alone, we were alone, nearly everyone left us.” “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms,” right? If that’s what you think, you’re missing the point. Many bereaved parents feel so very alone at the time they most need support. Many bereaved parents ARE left alone at the time they most need support, kindness, hugs, and an ongoing expression of God’s love. We ARE the hands and feet of God on this earth. We need to remember that.

I wrote in an earlier post about reading and relating to the Book of Job. Job suffered great losses. His “friends” came by to “comfort” him – more like confront him – in his grief. They accused him of sinning. He felt deserted by God, his friends and his family. He didn’t understand why God was doing this to him. God had been good to him, and now he felt like God was punishing him for something he didn’t do. He didn’t understand. He had a crisis of faith.

Is a crisis of faith a sin? No. It’s an opportunity to grow. It’s an opportunity to look carefully at what we believed and what we thought we knew, throwing out the wrong while trying to find the right. It’s an opportunity to learn that our ways aren’t God’s ways, as hard as that may be to accept or understand. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that now we “see through a dark glass (I Cor. 13:12).” It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that we walk by faith, not by sight. We don’t know it all. All we know is what we can see with our finite eyes, and all we can understand is what our finite mind can comprehend. The rest has to be taken on faith.

I still struggle greatly with my faith. I still have more questions than answers. I feel like my faith is so small, and my ability to believe and trust in a God that seems to have let me down is small. I no longer see “the church” as a source of comfort or a source of friendship and support. I have very little desire to attend church. I need God to answer prayers for me right now. I need to see that he hears me and cares for the struggles my family and I are going through. I hope that He hears me more than I have an assurance that He hears me. I am worse for wear.

But, I know that this isn’t the end of it. I pray, though not with the fervency and unquestioning devotion as I once did. I try to water that root of faith I have had since I was a child. I know that root of faith goes deep, although most of the above-ground, visible manifestation of my faith may have been pruned. More often than not, in my prayers I remind God, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).” I remind myself of what I know for certain. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe Jason is in heaven with his hands lifted in praise to the Most High, even as he was the Sunday before he died. I know that the grave was not Jason’s final destination. I know I will see him again. I know that someday I will join Jason before the throne of God, and then I understand. And that’s as good a place to start as any.

For further reading on Job, I recommend this post: The Trial of Job.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisis_of_faith

http://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/the-question-of-faith/

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Of Falling Trees and Such

As I lay in bed this morning listening to the wind whip through the trees on this blustery and wintery day, I realized I was wondering if one of them would fall on the house…and hoping and praying one would not. Once you have a tree fall on your house, you can’t help but wonder whether it will happen again.

On January 20, 1993, Western Washington State experienced what became known as “infamous Inaugural Day Windstorm.” As Bill Clinton was about to be sworn in as President of the United States, we in the Seattle area had other things on our minds.

It was a typical homeschooling day in the Carney household, although one where we were getting a slower start than normal that morning. Eric was having a hard time getting out of bed, preferring to snuggle down under the covers on that blustery morning. Joe had gone to work as usual, crossing the I-90 floating bridge across Lake Washington to his job in downtown Seattle. The rest of us were just puttering around the house.

Around 9:00 a.m., we heard part of a tree fall from our neighbor’s yard onto the fence that divided our properties in the back. Jason and Jenna climbed up on the kitchen counter to look out the window, as I stood behind them surveying the damage.

As we looked out the window at the damaged fence, something else very startling caught my attention. It looked to me like the big fir tree about 15-20 feet away from the kitchen window in our backyard was dancing. It sort of slowly lifted up and twirled to the right, settled back down, and then slowly lifted up and twirled to the left. It literally looked like it was dancing a slow ballet. It was an amazing sight to see.

Now, this was no ordinary fir tree. As it grew, it had split fairly low so that it had two trunks going at least 60 feet or so into the air. It was a big tree!! The trunks were situated so that one was toward the house and one away from the house.

All of a sudden, I realized the tree was no longer dancing, it was falling right toward the house…right toward the kitchen window we were looking out. I grabbed Jason and Jenna off the counter and turned to run. By the time I got to the kitchen doorway, it was all over.

Thankfully, the tree turned as it fell so that one trunk landed on the roof to the right of us and one landed on the roof to the left of us. The top of one on the left snapped off from the impact of hitting the house, and it whipped back in through the window over the front door to the house and a branch went through the front door.

There were several things that saved us that day. We weren’t at the dining room table where we normally would have been. Eric was still cozy in his bed and the rest of us were watching the storm out the kitchen window – just in time to run as the tree fell. If the tree had not turned as it fell, it would have landed with both trunks right on top of us, of that I have no doubt. If we had been closer to the front door or going down the stairs to the basement, we could have been hit by the treetop coming through the window above the door or by the shattering glass. Also, our landlord just recently (finally!!) had re-roofed the house, replacing any damaged wood. Being an older house, it had fairly thick and solid joists which gave it more strength to absorb some of the impact of the falling tree. Because the trunk of the tree split, the weight of the tree was divided between the two trunks. The larger, heavier trunk came through the roof above the dining room table right where the kids would have been doing their schoolwork on any other day, and the smaller trunk landed halfway across the length of the house above the front door (causing damage to the plumbing tree of the house, front window above the door, and the door) but didn’t come all the way through the roof.

I called Joe at work, asking him to come home right away because a tree had fallen on the house. He made it back across the I-90 floating bridge just before they closed it because of the wind. I called our landlord and had a hard time convincing him that a tree had actually fallen on the house (one I had tried to get him to cut down) and that the damage was more than something his aging father could climb up on the roof and fix. (Our landlord was something else, I must say!)

The city where we lived sustained the greatest number of damaged homes per capita in the area. Many, many other houses were damaged or destroyed throughout the area. Winds in some areas reached that of a category 1 hurricane. Buildings downtown Seattle swayed in the wind, making people nauseous. Power was out for days. Six people died and many others injured. But, none of us were hurt, just very shaken. I am so very thankful.

The house was so damaged that we had to pack everything up and move it into storage. We had people just show up to help us pack up our entire household in one day. Everything went into storage and stayed there (for months) as we looked for a house to buy. That’s another story.

Anyway, one of the first things I made sure was that all of the close-in trees at our next house were cleared. I couldn’t sleep when it was windy until I felt fairly certain we were out of reach of most potentially-falling trees.

The moral of this story is that you don’t ever forget traumatic events or tragedies. They are imprinted on your life. They become a part of who you are. Your heart doesn’t forget.

We now live in a house with trees close by, and I find that it makes me nervous when the wind howls through the trees as it is today. I don’t so much worry about myself being hurt; I worry about the ones I love. In my ignorance before the tree fell on our house, I knew that trees fell in high winds. I just never imagined one would fall on us. In my ignorance before Jason died, I knew that tragedy strikes families and children die. I just never imagined it would be us. Once you experience a great tragedy or a traumatic event, you never forget that you are not immune. Time passes, but certain things can take you back to that moment when you realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not immune from tragedies or traumatic events. None of us are immune.

I am so thankful none of us were hurt that day the tree fell on our home. I am so thankful for the people who rallied around us to help us pack up and move everything we owned in a single day. I am thankful for the people who invited us to stay with them while we looked for a house to buy.

But, I still don’t understand why God protected us that day the tree fell on our house (and I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that He did then and many other times), but He didn’t protect Jason from being hit by a drunk driver on March 3rd, 2002. I prayed and prayed for God’s protection for my kids. I feel like sometimes they were protected from danger or harm and sometimes they weren’t. We invested in the lives of others. Sometimes that investment returned to us and sometimes it didn’t. I don’t understand why people we counted on left us so very alone after Jason died. Protection and support one time; no protection and no support another. An exponentially greater tragedy; exponentially less support.

Sometimes there just aren’t any answers. Things happen, and I don’t understand why. I know that I now “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There are so many things I don’t understand. Someday I hope I will.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Holiday Grief Support Resource Link

With the holidays quickly approaching, I would just like to share this link that lists some helpful suggestions concerning grief and the holidays: http://ididnotknowwhattosay.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/holiday-grief-support-resources-2/ This site contains suggestions for those who have lost someone close, as well as suggestions for those who would like to support someone who has lost a loved one.

There is no “magic pill” that will make the holidays easier to navigate nor any article that will provide all the answers to handling grief during any and all occasions. Grief isn’t a “one size fits all” thing, and neither are suggestions for walking through grief during any particular period of time or occasion. There isn’t anything that will take away the deep grief of the loss of a loved one, but perhaps there are suggestions on this link that will help in some way during this holiday season.

Becky

Shower the People You Love with Love

[The title of my blog is borrowed from one of James Taylor's songs - Shower the People You Love with Love]

We visited a new church on Sunday. Can’t say that we’ll be going back. We’ve had a hard time finding a church that “fits” us since Jason died. Some of the things that make up the organization and practice of churches seems so trivial any more…but, that’s a topic for another post.

Anyway, at one point in his sermon the pastor said, “You can’t live your lives for your kids.” Now, by the time he got to this point, I had pretty much checked out mentally. I can’t even tell you how he got to the place of saying that line in his sermon. He went on to say how he has four kids, but doesn’t let them run his life. I think he was trying to emphasize spiritual balance and the importance of putting God first in your life. Honestly, he was so all over the map, I couldn’t really tell you for sure the point of the message.

Now, I agree that one must have balance in life. If one area of our lives takes up much more of our time than it should or becomes of greater importance to us than it should, other areas can suffer and our lives can become out of balance. If one area has much greater importance than it should, the more out of balance our lives can become. It can get to the point of being unhealthy or to the point where we lose something we love.

Any area can cause our lives to be out of balance – work, hobby, television, video games, relationships. A person who is a workaholic can lose an important connection to his or her spouse or significant other. A parent who focuses an inordinate amount of time on the children can cause the other parent to feel unimportant. Focusing too much on activities or friendships outside of the family can cause our families to suffer. Even church activities, done in the name of God, can cause an imbalance. Growing up as a preacher’s kid, I’d have to say that we kids all knew where we fit in the whole scheme of things, below God and the church. [It's fairly common for preachers' kids to feel second (or third or fourth) place to "the church."]

Perhaps you only can’t “live your lives for your kids,” but we can certainly cherish them, listen to them, spend quality time with them. Our children are our greatest gifts. They grow up so fast; before you know it, they are grown. These times never come again. And if your child dies, all you have are memories of bygone times with your child.

I read a blog this morning that really touched my heart. The author lost her son to pediatric cancer when he was three. Her encouragement to cherish your children is so poignant. On this day, his 6th birthday, she writes:

I miss the days where I lived carefree and unaware.  I miss going to the party store and picking out candy and balloons.  I miss living a life where I didn’t even give a thought to pediatric cancer.  But more than any of that – I miss watching my son, for 3 years now, blow out the candles on his birthday cake.  I miss crying out of joy instead of sadness.  I miss Tanner.  More and more with every passing second.

So, log off, put your phones down, and enjoy the moments you have.  You may have only one.  You may have a million.  You need to relish them, you need to be present in them, you need to be so full with joy that you can’t keep the tears in your eyes.  The greatest gift I ever had gave me that, on his birthday.

http://thelexiebeanfoundation.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/happy-6th-birthday-tanner-in-heaven/

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney